Wine and chocolate are not a match I have traditionally thought of as ready-made. I’m more likely to pair my chocolate with, well, more chocolate, than with wine. I’m more used to being told basics like pair white wine with chicken or fish, red wine with red sauce and pasta or red meat. Now, I confess that’s about the extent of my knowledge, and up until now of my interest, in choosing the right wine. But when I heard about the art of pairing wine with chocolate, I was intrigued.
One of several presentations at the second annual Bucks County Chocolate Show on Saturday, May 31, is “Two of a Kind: The Art of Pairing Chocolate and Wine.” The show will be held at the New Hope Eagles Ballroom (formerly the Fire Hall) at 46 North Sugan Road in New Hope. In addition to the presentations, the show features chocolatiers and chocolate shops showcasing artisan chocolates and even organic and vegan chocolates; “The Journey of the Pod,” an educational exhibit focusing on the cocoa bean and how it becomes a chocolate bar; and demonstrations such as chocolate recipes presented by James Beard Award-nominated cookbook author Michael Recchiuti from his book, “Chocolate Obsession.”
Gretchen Tartakoff is the founder of the show, which made its debut in 2008. She first opened her business, the Chocolate Bar, six years ago in Bucks County when she thought she might be downsized from her position in the engineering department of a pharmaceutical corporation. The downsizing didn’t happen, but a new business was born.
Tartakoff, of Solebury, PA, has always loved chocolate, but instead of opening a traditional candy store, she decided to create a business that promotes chocolate — everything about chocolate — from local store owners and chocolatiers to the growers in the rain forest who work to produce the cocoa beans. The Bucks County Chocolate Show is just one of several activities she is involved in. She also offers special “Chocolate Parties to Go” at Valentine’s Day.
Her desire to bring together chocolate experts and chocolate lovers is why the educational exhibits are such an important part of the Bucks County Chocolate Show, she says. “I want everyone to understand and appreciate where chocolate comes from and the sustainable agriculture of the rain forest. I want to find a way to help empower and show support for those communities. If we do that it’s a win/win situation for everyone.” Tartakoff donates a portion of the proceeds from the show to the National Wildlife Federation.
Wine and chocolate are a natural pairing in more than just taste, says Danielle Ferrante, co-owner of the Chocolate Box, at 39 North Union Street in Lambertville, who will give the presentation on wine and chocolate. While chocolate has received a bad reputation in many quarters, particularly with dentists, when taken in small quantities it can actually help improve your health. “It makes sense when you think about it,” Ferrante says. “Both are botanicals with antioxidant properties, and both are bioflavins.” Antioxidants work to inhibit the onset of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes and possibly lower the risk of infection and cancer. Bioflavins, or B2, are a naturally occurring nutrient within the body which is important for a healthy metabolism. She recommends about three ounces of chocolate a day, the darker the better, along with one glass of wine to gain the maximum health benefits.
But for most of us the health benefits are just one more excuse to eat chocolate. Why might you match it up with the right wine? The best reason is the taste. “It’s a match made in heaven when it is done right,” says Ferrante.
She and her mother, Rita Ferrante, bought the Chocolate Box from the previous owners a little over two years ago. Danielle previously worked in the food business in and around New Hope and Lambertville, and Rita previously workd in nursing home and assisted living administration. (Danielle’s father, Daniel, is an electrical engineer, focusing primiarily on the design and execution of high speed rail systems.) “I’ve always loved chocolate and I was constantly working to learn about it,” says Ferrante, who describes herself as a self-taught chocolatier. “When we learned the shop was up for sale we thought it was the perfect choice for us. When we bought the shop we wanted to continue its tradition of integrity and excellence and still add a few of our own trendy touches.”
Ferrante and her mother do not make the chocolate that is sold at the store. That would be chocolatier Cheri Lee, of Cheri Pie Sweet Treats, located in Bucks County. While Lee has her own business that features pastries as well as chocolates, the candies she makes for Ferrante are sold exclusively at the Chocolate Box. Two examples are strawberry balsamic bonbons — strawberry ganache molded in white chocolate with a dollop of balsamic vinegar, and lavender honey bonbons — lavender infused honey ganache (the honey comes from Peace Valley Lavendar Farm in Doylestown) enrobed in 61 percent dark chocolate. Lee will join Ferrante for the presentation at the Bucks County Chocolate Show. They will pair dark chocolate with a variety of red wines made by local wineries including Tomsello Winery in Hammonton, and Chaddsford Winery, of Chadds Ford, PA.
Ferrante says the most important secret to enjoying chocolate and wine together is to make sure that the wine is at least as sweet, if not slightly sweeter, than the chocolate with which it is served. If the wine is less sweet than the chocolate it may take on a bitter taste. “Match lighter, more elegant wines with lighter, more elegant chocolate. A chocolate with a floral flavor goes well with a floral wine.” Stronger chocolates are enhanced by a wine with a stronger flavor. She suggests eating the chocolate first, then following it with a sip of wine.
While you don’t necessarily need a special occasion to try pairing chocolate and wine, Ferrante suggests that a formal chocolate and wine tasting can make a novel and interesting social event. To plan a tasting party, she advises starting with the lightest chocolate and lighter wines and moving gradually to the dark chocolate and red wines. In addition, make sure that you have some saltines or oyster crackers on hand as well as a pitcher of water to clear the palate between selections.
White chocolate, which is made with cocoa butter, milk, and sugar, is not technically chocolate because it contains no cocoa liquor. It has a very buttery flavor and works well with sherry, says Ferrante. She also says white chocolate works well with muscat, tawny port, sauterne, or ice wine (a dessert wine made from grapes that were frozen while still on the vine). Moving on to milk chocolate, Ferrante suggests it is best enhanced by a sweet dessert ine such as Gewurtztraminer, Reisling, muscat, sherry, white zinfandel, sauterne, and late harvest wines.
Also, don’t just think chocolate bars when combining wine and chocolate. A chocolate mousse or chocolate cheesecake can also be complemented by the right glass of wine. Sparkling wine or champagne are fabulous in combination with chocolate-dipped strawberries, for instance.
For dark and bittersweet chocolate, Ferrante says look for a more full-bodied wine. Zinfandels are an excellent choice to pair with dark chocolate with 65 percent or greater cacao, what Ferrante calls robust dark chocolate. Other good wines to choose include pinot noir, cabernet, syrah, or merlot. For what she calls fragrant dark chocolate, with 65 percent or less cacao, Ferrante suggests light-bodied fruity reds such as beaujolais, pinot noir, merlot, and fruity whites such a white zinfandel, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, Gewurtztraminer, riesling, and vintage port.
In addition to Ferrante’s presentation, other presentations will include: “Infusing the Flavors of the Season,” by Robert Cabeca of Robert’s Chocolates in the Washington, DC, area. Cabeca will explain how he uses fresh ingredients to infuse his chocolate with a variety of flavors. “Chocolate: A Healthy Passion,” will be presented by nutritionist Shara Aaron, who will discuss the history and relationship of chocolate and health. Pierrick Chouard of Vintage Plantations Chocolates will explain how to read the labeling on chocolate and what that percentage of cocoa content really means. In “Theobroma Cacao: Food of the Gods and of the Ancients” presents new information about the history of chocolate and the work underway in cocoa farmer education and sustainability.
Ferrante’s last word on pairing chocolate and wine is that there is no right or wrong. “Listen to your own taste buds. You know what you like, and you should remember to have fun. Pairing chocolate and wine shouldn’t be serious. It’s about enjoying life.”
Bucks County Chocolate Show, Eagle Fire Hall, Route 202 and Sugan Road, New Hope, PA. Sunday, May 31, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “The Journey of the Pod” exhibit. Presentations throughout the day. Chocolate vendors and exhibit booths. Proceeds benefit National Wildlife Federation. $10. For more information on the Chocolate Box in Lambertville call 609-397-1920 or visit www.chocolateboxusa.com. 215-850-6292 or www.buckscountychocolateshow.com.